It's a hot topic in politics and includes everything from power production to backyard vegetables.
For UW-Whitewater, it's about saving money, protecting the environment and being social advocates by making the campus a “living laboratory,” said Wes Enterline, UW-W sustainability coordinator.
“Sustainability is a valuable part of the economic engine, communities and state of Wisconsin. Sustainability is adding additional value," he said.
Enterline's job was created in 2008. As the university's sustainability coordinator, he overseas a variety of programs, university initiatives and community outreach efforts.
His goal is to ensure future generations know more about what they are doing to the planet. But he also shows people that being sustainable doesn't just mean being environmentally responsible; it's also about being economically viable.
The university and Enterline are working to bring sustainability into the classroom through campus initiatives, working with the Whitewater community on projects beyond campus boundaries, and focusing class research on green practices or theories.
The university also practices what it preaches.
Energy and cost-saving measures are put into place as buildings are remodeled.
The new Hyland Hall has solar panels, and a skylight runs along a wing of offices, allowing more sunlight to hit the center of the building and improving heat storage, Enterline said.
One of the newest residence halls, Starin Hall, received a LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its sustainable features.
The university also finished third in the state this year in the national RecycleMania contest, which focuses on minimizing waste, Enterline said.
While he and the university are connected to dozens of sustainability efforts, some noteworthy ones include:
The campus garden: The garden began three years ago and has brought together people from the Whitewater community, school district and university.
Located near Ambrose Health Center and the Moraine Bookstore, it is one of the crown jewels of the university's sustainability mission. It's where a liberal arts education meets real-world practices, with students enrolled in a service learning class working in the garden or in internships focusing on maintaining it.
In the 2014-15 season, more than 475 pounds of produce were donated to the Whitewater Food Pantry. This year, the garden expanded. Last week alone, about 100 pounds of produce were picked, including about 30 pounds of tomatoes, Enterline said.
Volunteers maintain the rows of cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes and more. They are free to take what they like.
LED lighting: The university was one of the earlier adopters of LED lighting in the UW System. A UW-W pilot program to convert light pole lights to LED lights was expanded in the 2014-15 school year. That portion of the university's energy costs has been cut by 58 percent, Enterline said.
The overall energy bill for the campus is $250,000 a month, he said.
Next up is replacing all building-mounted lights.
The LED lights improve visibility and therefore safety, he said. The initiative is one of the ways to showcase the university's mission that sustainability is about being environmentally conscious, saving money and being socially active.
Seed collection: The UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve was bought in the 1970s and contains about 110 acres of woodlands and prairie.
The land was earmarked for additional residence halls. When university officials realized they would not be needed, the mission to preserve the ecosystem began.
Students and staff do controlled burns and collect seeds to help restore the area's native prairie species.
For the past three to four years, seeds have been collected from existing plants and spread on another part of the property. Seeds are also given to the city for restoration projects.
Seed collection has saved the university thousands of dollars and brings in revenue, Enterline said.
It occurs every Friday from September through November and is volunteer-driven.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was pleased with the work after seeing a picture of a rarely sighted bird in the preserve, Enterline said.
“If we're not using it, we should manage it, and this is the best way,” Enterline said, comparing it to mowing a lawn.